Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and give thanks for all those in heaven and on earth who encourage us, pray for us, and who strengthen us for the road ahead.
So what exactly is a saint?
Modern media sources like Google and Wikipedia suggest:
- A saint is “a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness or closeness to God.”
- From its Greek origins, “saint” means “one set apart, one who is sanctified and made holy”
- Any believer who is in Christ and in whom Christ dwells either in Heaven or here on earth.
The Church defines saints as individuals who deepen our understanding of who we are called to be within the complexities of our world. These chosen vessels of God’s grace are lights of the world in their own generation and offer us today an example of righteousness through their service, their holiness of life, and their courage to challenge the Church and society.
But saints are more than individual persons past or present. The creeds and prayers reference the Church as the communion of saints — a shared body in which all in heaven and on earth are made one in God. They are the great cloud of witnesses, a fellowship of love, support, and prayer encouraging us to persevere and showing us God’s power and mercy at work in the world.
These days it seems like the work of sin is more prevalent, more powerful than the work of the saints. The turmoil and tragedies of the past week awaken in us the reality that we live in a difficult, divided and dangerous world. More than ever, we are aware of our own flaws and limitations and powerlessness.
Like us, the saints also lived in a world of division, danger, and difficulty. Like us, the saints struggled with their own flaws, failures, and brokenness. Yet somehow, in those cracked, fragile, vessels, the life and love and light of God found a way to shine through the darkness of the world’s chaos, confusion, and conflict and touch our lives with God’s grace.
For me, Ignatius of Loyola is one such saint.
The youngest of thirteen children, Ignatius grew up with the power, privileges, and prestige of the minor nobility in 16th century Spain. Known as a great dancer, gambler, and ladies’ man with a passion for fighting brawls and dueling, he became a soldier at sixteen seeking fortune and adventure.
Severely wounded in both legs by a cannonball in the battle of Pamplona, Ignatius spent the next several months bedridden in a hospital with only two books available: one on the lives of the saints and one on the life of Christ.
Reading these books, Ignatius’ worldly desires for power, prestige, and privilege transformed into a desire to be like the saints…to live a life of prayer, service, and simplicity.
Following his recovery, Ignatius at age 30 followed God’s call into religious life. But even with his newfound faith and vocation, Ignatius was far from perfect.
Shifting from soldier to saint, he strived to outdo all the saints in their piety through extreme practices of fasting and penitence. Weak and mired in self-doubt, Ignatius gradually figured out that being like the saints was not a competition be the best, but an invitation to lead a more balanced life.
And so, Ignatius learned to see the world through new eyes and to find God in all things. This enlightened worldview became the basis of his manual of prayer called the Spiritual Exercises and inspired the foundation of a new religious order called the Society of Jesus, better known to us today as the Jesuits.
Ignatius of Loyola through his life and work continues to bless us today helping us grow in faith, hope, and love; teaching us to find God in all things, encouraging us to be contemplatives in action – both prayerful and practical, showing us to live each day in freedom, openness and balance.
Ignatius encourages us to see ourselves as companions of Jesus; helping him carry his cross, Ignatius calls us to go wherever the needs are greatest and wherever we can help the most; he inspires us as Christians to go out and meet people where they are rather than insist on others coming to us.
Ignatius teaches us how to live like Christ and become saints in our own time. He shows us how a life full of flaws, failures, and fragility can become a life filled with God’s grace and blessings.
Saints like Ignatius remind us of Jesus words:
Blessed are the hopeless and the persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek and humble, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who show mercy, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God. For in the same way they persecuted the prophets and saints who came before you.
When we become like the saints, we come to know these words not as the promise of some distant future, but as a present reality where God’s power and love are active and alive around us.
What if we chose to see the world through the eyes of the saints…to find God in the unexpected places.
Here in New York City, we are bombarded by millions of people every day. What if when we looked around us, we saw living saints among us instead of seeing suspicious strangers. What if we looked upon each person as a vessel of grace, a light of the world for our generation, a fellow saint who might deepen our understanding of who God is and who we are called to be, a companion on the way who helps us carry our crosses and guides us on the right path.
What if we choose to live as saints today; to encourage, pray, and strengthen one another as we journey deeper into God and into the needs of our world. Perhaps then, God’s blessing will not be a hopeful promise of a distant future, but a present, loving, living reality of grace. Amen.